Cork history: A look through the archives at the Burning of the City

Cork history: A look through the archives at the Burning of the City
One of the few building facades still standing on Patrick's Street following the burning of Cork in December 1920.

A NEW exhibition on the burning of Cork by the British forces in 1920 which was officially launched just over a week ago is being well received by initial visitors. 

Running in St Peter’s until the end of the year, the exhibition has been funded by Cork Cork City Council and is a collaborative effort between LW Management Group, bigO creative agency and System Plus and an advisory team consisting of Gerry White and John Borgonovo. 

Cork 1920 – The Burning of a City features text, photography, quotes and maps to bring the events of 1920 to life. 

Interior of City Hall after burning of Cork, 1920.
Interior of City Hall after burning of Cork, 1920.

The fully immersive experiences include witness testimonies from a 1960 documentary on the Burning of Cork and a dedication to Rebel Women. 

It has been lauded by the Lord Mayor, Councillor John Sheehan who commended the curators for their design-led approach. 

"I am sure everyone who visits during the year will agree that their creative approach gives a poignant insight into 1920. 

"Through thought-provoking stories, archival material, historic photographs and compelling witness statements, the exhibition highlights the vision, passion, energy and imagination of the men and women of 100 years ago in a powerful way," he said.

Patrick Street after the Burning of Cork by the Black and Tans. R Cudmore's shop still standing. 
Patrick Street after the Burning of Cork by the Black and Tans. R Cudmore's shop still standing. 

Trawling through The Echo archives reveals a plethora of images from the fateful event in 1920, when on the night of 11–12 December, the Burning of the City occurred.

Cork city in 1920 was the stage on which some of the most shocking events of the War of Independence played out. 

The Burning of Cork by the Crown forces was in retaliation to an IRA ambush which occurred earlier that evening in Dillion's Cross which wounded twelve Auxiliaries, one fatally.

Burning of Cork; The RIC Auxiliaries, K Company at Cork Railway Station October 1920. 
Burning of Cork; The RIC Auxiliaries, K Company at Cork Railway Station October 1920. 

The Echo front page from Monday, December 13 captures the sense of chaos and fear felt by residents in Cork on the evening of December 11. 

"Some time after 8 o’clock a series of burnings began at Dillion’s Cross and those were practically continuous until day dawned.

"Under such circumstances, it was not surprising that those living in the neighbourhood spent a terrifying night and many and fervent were the prayers offered that the dawn of day would not be delayed.

 "At various times during the night rifle shots rang out, and in the stillness - a stillness that was only broken by the crackling of timber in the houses on fire - those shots had the most terrifying effect, for no one knew, seeing that houses were discriminated between when his turn would come next."

Businessmen inspect the damage in the aftermath of the burning of Cork city centre by crown forces. 
Businessmen inspect the damage in the aftermath of the burning of Cork city centre by crown forces. 

The terror and chaos continued into the next day, when people were dragged out of their house and threatened at gunpoint.

"The residents of Harrington's Row were startled by loud knocking at their doors, and a couple of them were opened.

"The occupants were questioned about their political leanings, and one of them an ex-soldier and his wife, were compelled to sing 'God Save the King', the lady being coached in the words by her husband.

The aftermath of the burning of Cork. 
The aftermath of the burning of Cork. 

"Further down the road, the occupant of a house was ordered out and placed with his back against a wall, where he was told he would be shot, but this threat was not carried out."

Landmark businesses, the City Hall and Carnegie Library were nothing more than piles of ash the next day, as part of the millions of pounds worth of damages done on that harrowing night.

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